Wine review — St Hugo, Grossett, McWilliams Mount Pleasant, Chapel Hill, Quinta das Stencostas and Bremerton

Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007  $33–$50
Coonawarra, South Australia

Cabernet sauvignon has been called the king of grapes; but never the queen. Anthropomorphically speaking, it’s a commanding, manly variety, personified by St Hugo – a solid, square-jawed, broad-shouldered, unapologetic Don Draper of a red, bristling with five-o’clock-shadow tannins. Like Draper, though, it charms with a combination of power, elegance and sweet complexity, underlying a tough, inscrutable surface. Our sample drank well for a week after opening – its deep, sweet, ripe varietal fruit flavour gradually welling up through the firm tannins.

Jeffrey Grosset Gaia 2008 $60
Clare Valley, South Australia

Cabernet sauvignon reveals a feminine side in mixed company – usually its companions from France’s Bordeaux region, cabernet franc and merlot. In Jeffrey Grosset’s Gaia these varieties boost the perfume, create a unique but cabernet-based flavour and mollify the still significant tannins. Where brooding St Hugo leads with tannin and slowly reveals fruit, Gaia dazzles with fruit then follows with deep, velvety tannins. Grosset’s winemaking signature – shimmering, pristine, varietal fruitiness –probably stems from his mastery of riesling, a wine that relies on fruit alone. He transposes that effectively into this generous, graceful, oak-matured, potentially long-lived red.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2010 $11.99–$17.99
Hunter Valley, New South Wales

These days the word “semillon” unaccompanied by “sauvignon blanc” is the wine marketer’s kiss of death. Yet this unloved (on its own) variety performs beautifully in parts of Australia and in the Hunter makes unique, lemony, tart, low-alcohol dry whites capable of prolonged ageing. They’re written about a lot, but remain a niche variety largely, I believe, because of the idiosyncratic, love-it or hate-it flavour. Fortunately for true believers, anti-fashion comes at a discount. So, Elizabeth, one of the oldest and biggest selling of the style is often slashed to around $12. It’s simply delicious in that unique, lemony, tart, bone-dry way.

Chapel Hill Il Vescovo Savagnin 2010 $16–$20
Kangarilla, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Last decade Australian vignerons planted the Spanish white variety albarino, then found that it was actually savagnin, a non-musk clone of traminer. By whatever name, it’s thriving in a variety of sites with makers largely settling on “savagnin” rather than its other synonyms. Chapel Hill’s savagnin grows at Kangarilla, one of McLaren Vale’s cooler, elevated sites, towards the southern boundary of the Adelaide Hills. The flavour’s unique – combining stone fruit, citrus and savouriness in a full, but subtle way. Contact with the skin after crushing and maturation on spent yeast cells added texture and a pleasant tannic tweak to the finish.

Quinta das Setencostas Branco 2009 $10.49–$14.99
Alenquer, Portugal

Until recently we’d not have found this on an Australian retail shelf. But the strong dollar combined with the growing confidence and international knowledge of our big retailers sees them scouring the world for profitable direct imports – like this tasty Portuguese white imported by Coles for its 1st Choice and Vintage Cellars stores. It’s from the Alenquer region, not a household name in Australia, and a blend of ferneo pires, arinto, chardonnay, rabo de ovelha and vital. It’s a medium bodied, bone-dry style with what we might call vinous rather than varietal flavours against a leesy background, with quirky, dry savoury finish. It’s fully priced at $14.99 but very good value during periodic discounts to $10.49.

Bremerton Coulthard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $19–$22
Langhorne Creek, South Australia

Langhorne Creek, one of Australia’s biggest and most important winegrowing regions, produces rich, full-flavoured reds economically. Its varietally pure, sumptuous reds, particularly cabernet sauvignon, earned the area’s reputation as Australia’s mid palate – and drove large scale planting there in the 1990s. While the multi-region blends have a role, it’s far more interesting, I believe, to enjoy Langhorne Creek on its own. In this lovely red, winemaker Rebecca Wilson captures the full, ripe flavour of cabernet from her family’s vineyard. It has the region’s thumbprint slurpy, juicy fruit flavours and abundant but velvet tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011